by Samuel Oluwatobi Olatunji
I missed Ake Festival last year. That was something terrible. I was faraway in the outskirts of Abuja in my father’s house, wishing I could traveled to Abeokuta. As I glanced through the Facebook pictures of my friends (Kawthar, Ruth, Eric and so on) at Ake, I vowed not to miss Ake again. 2016 came and I kept my vow.
On Monday, 14 November 2016, around 12pm, I was in an ash-coloured Sienna, speeding into the embrace of Abeokuta. And I didn’t go alone. I was to go with three other friends: Sonia, Feranmi and Ifeoma. Well, Sonia, who seems to have magical powers of free things, was able to somehow get someone who agreed to take her to Abeokuta for free. So Feranmi, Ifeoma and I became three excited musketeers, leaving the carnivorous city of Lagos, heading towards the halcyon haven of Kuto, anticipating Ake.
In the car, Feranmi got bored and decided to twist my emerging afro into locks. She only ended up twisting the left side. I looked almost like a modern day Sango, or probably an upcoming mad man, when she was done with the evil work of her twisting. Thank God I had a face-cap to save my face from the eyes of the public.
Within two hours, we entered Kuto. We headed straight to the Cultural Centre before we began the search for hotel. After using my Google Allo app to search for hotels nearby, and calling some to get a fair price we could afford, it seemed like we would have to spend the night(s) under a bridge or in any seemingly sleep-able place. Then an idea came up. There were some taxi drivers sitting under a tree at the entrance to the Cultural Centre. I decided to go to one of them to ask where I could get a cheap room to spend the night with a girl. I had a strong feeling that some of them may be into one-night stands in cheap hotels around. I told Ifeoma and Feranmi about the idea and they laughed. When I walked up to one of the men, all I could tell him after attempting a greeting in Yoruba was that my friends and I are students, we came for an event at the Cultural Centre and we are looking for a cheap hotel to spend the nights of our stay in Abeokuta. And with the help of another man beside him, I was told possible places around we could go to. In fact, the man stopped an okada man he knows, and told him where to take me. I decided to go with Ifeoma to check out the hotel.
Before leaving, Sonia, who had got to Abeokuta before us called, and came to join us. Feranmi and Sonia waited behind, while Ifeoma and I mounted the okada, and we were taken to a hotel behind MKO stadium. The hotel is just hundred naira away. The name is Neu-gate Hotel.
We entered and asked for the price. We were told #5,500 per night for a standard room. However, somehow, we told them that we are students, who had come for an event in Abeokuta. And miraculously, we are asked to pay 4k per night. We were at first taken to a dull looking room with just a ceiling fan downstairs. Later, we were told that the Madam said we should be taken to a deluxe room upstairs with AC. Special treatment still for 4k. We were excited. I almost started singing “Miracle working God, your name is Yahweh…” We paid and called Feranmi and Sonia to come over, giving them direction.
Later that same day, Ifeoma went to see her sister, I think at Ota. Deborah, Feranmi’s friend, came around from Oyo, and Feranmi and Deborah went to stay with a family friend quite a distance away, somewhere called Agbeloba. Sonia left to get her bag from her friend’s place. And I was home alone. Or should I say hotel alone? Sonia came later in the night with fruits that became our dinner. Getting food in Kuto from 7pm is like looking for water in hell. This made me to miss Lagos. In Lagos, I can still find food to buy by 11.45pm.
The next day, Sonia went for a writing workshop that took all day. And I was alone, working on a writing job I got. Ifeoma came later in the day. I wasn’t alone anymore. Ake Festival had begun gradually. For some, it began with a writing workshop like Sonia and Eric. For Ifeoma and I, it began with an interesting film show that Tuesday evening. Marguerite Abouet’s Aya de Yopougon is a very hilarious movie that highlights certain socio-political issues in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire).
Then there was a musical concert Wednesday evening that thrilled me. It started with the angelic voice of Falana, then moved to the traditional flavoured voices of Adunni Nefretiti & co and climaxed with the king of the stage, Brymo. I felt the vibe through my skin into my bones, and I had to surrender to dance afterwards. From there, we floated through book chats and literary discussions. There was a stage play – Iyalode of Eti. This is a tragic love story punctuated by betrayal and vengeance. All these mixed with the overwhelming camaraderie and the available books to buy made Ake an exciting experience.
One ambition I had while preparing for Ake this year is to meet Ngugi wa Thiong’O and Helon Habila. The reason is that I used Ngugi’s Matigari and Habila’s Measuring Time for my final-year project, and I wanted to meet them. Ake gave me that opportunity. I met them, informed them of my project and took a picture with each of them. That gave me a sense of fulfillment. And when it was time for the closing party, I lost myself in the dance and music.
Samuel Olatunji with Ngugi wa Thiong’O
As I returned home on Sunday morning, I was happy I didn’t miss Ake this year. It would have been more terrible for me.